There was a moment yesterday when I felt like Neo being advised by Morpheus.

“This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

We were standing at the apex of anarchy with our backs to the relative tranquillity of Plaza Charco. In front lay two streets; both were swirling cauldrons of bronzed flesh each moving liking a single organism. Our ears were assaulted by house, dance, trance, trad Canario and that odd whistling El Hierro music – we were on the edge of the abyss and there was only one way to discover whether it was the portal to heaven or to hell…we swallowed the red pill and jumped in.

You might think that my intro is a bit exaggerated, but believe me there were moments on ‘Embarkation Tuesday’ in Puerto de la Cruz when I felt that we were engulfed in an open air hedonistic mad house as our senses were assaulted by a relentless barrage of noise, colour and smells as upwards of thirty thousand people danced, drank, ate, fought running battles with hi-powered water pistols and threw themselves, or were thrown, from the harbour ramparts into the cooling and usually calm harbour waters.

Even when youre planning on getting wet, youve just got to be colour co-ordinated.

Even when you're planning on getting wet, you've just got to be colour co-ordinated.

I could imagine Father Dougal turning to father Ted with that goofy look of his and declaring:

“It’s all a bit mad isn’t it, Ted.”

Embarkation Tuesday is the highlight of Puerto de la Cruz’ July Fiestas and is generally an excuse for the townspeople to cut loose and party like it’s 1999 (or whatever people party like it is these days).

Carnaval street parties might be lively affairs, but if anything Embarkation Tuesday is wilder…it’s certainly wetter. It’s unlikely that anyone is going to try to throw you into the harbour if they don’t know you, but I always keep my back to something solid when I’m taking photos just in case. What is guaranteed is that at some stage someone is going to take you out with a well aimed jet from a water pistol.

“Aaargh,” Andy shouted at one point. “Somebody just shot me in the boobs.”
“Wow,” I answered, impressed. “Must have been a damn good shot.”

Look out behind you!

Look out behind you!

The truth is that after a few circuits under a sun whose fierce rays could fry eggs on lobster thighs, you’re almost begging people to ‘shoot’ you in an attempt to cool down. Had I not had my camera around my neck, I’d have welcomed a detour into the refreshing embrace of the harbour’s water.

As the afternoon progresses the party gets wilder, the music gets louder and the beer flows faster. There’s an almost ‘dare’ element to attempting to walk down streets like Calle Perdomo where gun battles rage and there’s always a danger of being taken out by smart bomb from above (aka as a bucket of water thrown from a balcony). We spotted one just about to be tipped over us and did a sharp detour to the other side of the street just as the people around us were drenched by an explosion of water.

At one point in the midst of the madness I had an anxiety attack and wondered where all the other ‘extranjeros’ were and where did they get all that white meat for the ‘pinchitos’ that were sizzling at the entrance to every bar – were the two linked? (Southern Comfort – the movie, not the drink – is responsible for this paranoia that occurs every time I find myself in the middle of a frenzy of music, eating and drinking and I’m not a ‘local’)

We had decided that we weren’t going to queue for hours to see the embarkation this year. We done it year after year and it’s always a test of stamina, but at around 6pm we spotted an almost empty prime position on top of a wall beside the harbour and were seduced into thinking: ‘it’s a wall, it’s only a couple of feet wide – nobody else can squeeze in there.’

Boy, were we wrong. Canarios, like nature, abhor a vacuum and despite the danger of the wall collapsing, or someone falling, they piled in behind us, inching forward at the least sign of weakness. It’s always the way, you have to come to accept it, but it’s rarely done with malice or anger.

Many Hands Make Light Work

Many Hands Make Light Work

The Virgen and San Telmo eventually turned up to be loaded onto their boats at around 8-ish to shouts of ‘No Pasa Nada’ and after a day of drinking beer, eating spicy pork and chicken pinchitos and being machine gunned by water pistols on numerous occasions we were able to retire, exhausted, to the calm sanctuary of our house.

Embarkation Tuesday is great fun, but there’s an underlying seriousness to the day’s events and the loading of San Telmo and the Virgen del Carmen onto their fishing boats is a deadly serious affair. If I’ve made it sound a bit crazy, then good. Like I said it’s great fun, but if you’re the slightest bit fainthearted, take the blue pill and enjoy it from the fringes.

See more photos of Puerto’s day of madness here.

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